There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:
Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.
I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.” And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)
The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.” Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to? “Sure I’m a racist. But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!” Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.
Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree. You either are or you aren’t. Everything else is a detail.
What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism. It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…” Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.
I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.